Aftersun is a special movie. I won’t beat around the bush here. It was one of those rarities in that at first, I had no idea what I was watching. It was all a very lovely account of a very British holiday, but I had no idea what the point of it was… until it hit me like a ton of bricks. And I would wager that many people had the same gut punch feeling I did as it all unfolded.
It’s really difficult not to spoil this one. On the surface, it really is just a sweet little father/daughter film. Twenty years ago, Sophie (Frankie Corio) went on a summer holiday with her Dad, Calum, (Paul Mescal) and we see them having a great time at first, followed by some solemn, bittersweet moments as it unfurls. Now, an adult Sophie looks back on this time, discovering that the man she knew had a lot more to him than she realised as a kid.
Holy crap. They really knocked it out of the park with the Oscar nominations this year, didn’t they? Still too white, still too male, but the movies I’ve seen so far have been brilliant. The standard of filmmaking this year has been absolutely phenomenal, it has to be said.
I’ve tried my best to go into as many films blindly as possible this year. This was one of them. What’s interesting is, Aftersun takes a while to figure out on the whole – just like the leading female character, you go on this journey not knowing what’s wrong, or if anything is even wrong at all. Being in the dark however makes it all the more heart-wrenching when you realise the film’s true themes, and when the penny drops your heart will sink simultaneously with her’s.
Paul Mescal is really having a moment, isn’t he? I’d be remiss not to mention his effortless and nuanced performance, as he really leads this movie in a commanding yet quiet manner that is perfect for the film. Not much has been said about young Frankie Corio though, who keeps up with Mescal’s expertise even at such a young age. She delivers her lines convincingly and with such realism that it would be a crime if she doesn’t have a long career ahead of her.
As you may have gathered, Aftersun is a sweet, simple story for at least half of its runtime. For any Brit watching, you’ll even laugh at how accurately director Charlotte Wells depicts a British resort holiday. Hair braid? All Inclusive bracelet? Extortionately priced scuba diving mask? It’s all there, and it’s so funny to watch, almost like a sort of nostalgic trip down memory lane. What I’m saying is, everything is meticulously detailed to such an extent that it’s hard to believe that this is Wells’ first feature length film. This is ultimately an outstanding debut for her.
Overall, this is a piece of pensive, emotionally gripping cinema that you’ll be thinking about for days after you see it. I didn’t for one moment think I’d be so impressed by it, but I promise it is worth every second of your time.
Aftersun is currently available to stream on MUBI in the UK.
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Overall Enjoyability Rating: ½